Thursday, July 01, 2004

Press - 5 Towns Jewish Times, June 24 2004 - The Silent Crisis

By Paula Simmonds

Looking at the five women who comprised the panel representing MARCH (Mothers Alone Raising Children), which took place at the Young Israel of Woodmere on a recent Shabbos, one would never guess at the daily struggles they face. Leah, Chaya Sorah, Tanya, Frumie and Devorah all appeared both composed and put-together, as they revealed often poignant details of life as a single Orthodox Jewish parent. The panel discussion – part of a larger Shabbos program – highlighted the paradox of keeping it all together on the outside, while meeting the enormous challenge of raising their families alone.

Rabbi Hershel Billet introduced the program, noting how the phenomenon of single parent families now affects people across the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy. Rabbi Billet explained that he made a decision to host MARCH in his shul, because something about the sincerity of the volunteers behind MARCH touched him deeply. He noted that we have many worthwhile grassroots organizations that have sprung up in recent years in our community, but none addressing this previously unspoken cause. In fact, for an organization characterized by it’s commitment to assisting families quietly, this first public appearance was a reluctant departure from their normal modus operendi – arranged with Rabbi Billet and Young Israel member Allen Ganz’s assistance, in order to garner support for the silent crisis MARCH is working to combat.

“I wish someone would offer to sit with my son in shul on a Shabbos morning,” said Devorah, as she answered the question about what was the hardest thing as a single parent. “Not having anyone around to share my child’s successes,” was Frumie’s touching answer to the same question. When asked what kinds of concrete help could be offered by the community, MARCH volunteer Briendy spoke of the desperate need for funds from the community to help support the many innovative programs they are trying to implement, including a furniture exchange which provides both material support and dignity to families trying to regain their footing after devastating loss and abandonment.

“We’re trying to offer single parent families a way to heal and move forward from some of the hurt they have experienced,” said Yitzchok, another key volunteer, “but it’s getting harder and harder to accomplish our goals if we stay behind the scenes. There is so much that we do with so little,” said Yitzchok, but in recent months, the organization has been forced to stop the small monthly stipends that were being sent to some needy families, due to a lack of funding. Amazingly, some stipend recipients have written in to say that as much as they appreciate the stipends, it is the warm, encouraging words of the monthly Chizzuk newsletter that mean so much to them. One parent even wrote in to say, “Whatever you do, please don’t stop sending me the monthly newsletter. Its words of inspiration literally keep me going.”

Some of the panel participants explained the difficulty of trying to balance the need to support their families, be both mother and father to their children, as well as to try in some small way to move on with their lives, despite often scary circumstances. Leah spoke of how much it meant to her to come home to a gift box from MARCH on Purim, which reminded her that someone truly cared. “You really can’t imagine how special I felt when I opened that box and saw that I was not forgotten,” said Leah. Tanya asked that people remember them for Shabbos with a solid invitation, as opposed to the vague open invitation which many find hard to accept. Chaya Sarah described a typical day, filled by a grueling work schedule, having to be on all evening for her children, and then remembering to call her own mother to check in on her before collapsing into bed.

After the womens’ comments, the presentation opened into a lively discussion, as the audience asked for more suggestions as to how they could be of genuine assistance. Some audience participants, clearly moved, made offers of goods and services, such as one woman who explained she could offer her services as a sheitel macher, and a garment manufacturer who made an offer of clothing. Suggestions were also made that an accountant or lawyer could offer reduced fees for services, and Rabbi Billet announced that a local optometrist and a local dentist have each generously offered their help in the form of some free exams.

One participant came up with the idea to set up a hotline for the families, but Briendy reminded everyone present that all good ideas take funds to implement, and that one can never go wrong by offering some cash assistance to this worthwhile organization. In order to volunteer, or offer your assistance to MARCH, e-mail MothersAlone@aol.com or call 212-696-5978.
Checks can be mailed to:
MARCH – 1214 Broadway, Room 406, New York, NY 10001

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